For "On a Roll," our feature on cycling, we connected with many local bike advocates, who have a wide range of perspectives on what officials can do to make Denver a top urban center for biking. Concerns about the rise in bike-car collisions, and the sometimes fatal results, have pushed these ideas to the forefront. Here, we give you the top suggestions for bike improvements, courtesy of the most active cycling advocates in the city.
As we outlined in our story, Denver's transformation into a more bike-friendly city is complex and not without growing pains. There are many pieces to the puzzle -- such as bike infrastructure, enforcement of laws, education efforts, changes in behavior and culture -- all of which city agencies and officials are discussing more frequently as accidents continue to raise the stakes.
We chatted with BikeDenver, the city's main advocacy group; the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, a volunteer group; Denver Bike Sharing, which owns and operates B-cycle, the citywide bike-sharing program; and other advocates and civic groups that focus on cycling.
First, we give you a top ten list, compiled from suggestions of the advocates. These are some of the top infrastructure changes they would like to see the city prioritize. Below that, we also have some more broader policy suggestions.
10. 18th and 19th Street build-out
Emily Snyder, the city's main bike planner, says that the Public Works Department is actively working on building out the 18th and 19th street bike routes, which would help improve the biking network in that part of downtown. 9. Old trolley line roads
This suggestion from some B-cycle staff members is that the city consider bike infrastructure -- dedicated lanes, protected paths, boulevards separated for bikes -- on the wide, old trolley line roads in the city. This could help maximize space for bikes on these streets. 8. Improving 23rd Avenue bike route
Public Works' Snyder says she often hears concerns about 23rd Avenue, which is an important connection from Sloan's Lake to downtown -- and also one of the few places in Denver that has a hill.
John Hayden, chair of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee says improvements on this avenue would be important for connections around Jefferson Park, and Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver, also emphasizes that out toward Stapleton, better infrastructure would be beneficial on this path.
BikeDenver and some staff from B-cycle say they are hopeful about plans for Union Station that would include bicycle parking and other cycling-related amenities. This could become an important part of the biking network by the 16th Street Mall, they say. 6. Improved route to the Highlands over I-25
Crossing I-25 from 20th Street into the highlands can feel especially treacherous and confusing for cyclists, says Hayden, who adds that in general, there need to be better bike routes on some key bridges. A clearer path here would help cyclists navigate this route from downtown into the Highlands. 5. Connections to Sun Valley neighborhood
Hayden says it's important that there are better connections from downtown to the Sun Valley neighborhood southwest of the Auraria campus. For example, an easier way from the Champa route in downtown to Mariposa Street would improve that link. Giving greater attention to lower-income areas is important, he adds, since, "These are people that are less likely to be able to afford a car." Continue for more of the top ten suggestions to make Denver a better bike city. 4. Improvements at Confluence Park
BikeDenver's Van Heuven says the city is working on a master plan for Confluence Park that should include some alleviation of crowding and congestion problems there. She says she hopes the South Platte and Cherry Creek paths that converge there could be widened, and the flow of traffic could be altered and improved. "Some places there are sharp corners to navigate on a bike," she says, adding that she hopes and increase in space would make room for different kinds of cyclists with varying degrees of experience. 3. 15th Street Cycle Track
As we reported in August, the city is working on building some kind of bike facility on 15th Street in downtown, which advocates believe will provide an important link to the infrastructure in the neighborhood. That is expected to go forward next year, and advocates hope the Public Works Department continues on its timeline with that initiative. 2. Connections to Speer Boulevard
Some of Denver's strengths as a bike city -- and one of the reasons it has such potential to be one of the best -- involve off-road paths such as Cherry Creek and the South Platte, which are frequently used for recreation and commuting. The only problem, according to some cyclists, is that around the center of the city, getting to Cherry Creek along Speer Boulevard from the north and south can be very difficult. There isn't clear signage on the best places to enter and exit those paths and as Hayden says, "You end up with people doing dangerous, illegal things...[because] the bike lanes all end on the north side short of entrances to the Cherry Creek path."
When cyclists use that path to commute, they often are confused and don't have a clear way to enter traffic and get to their destination from Speer, he says.
1. Bike infrastructure on Broadway
It's a very large road and moves faster than Bannock and other parallel streets that have bike lanes. Many bike advocates think it's a logical place for the city to consider some sort of bike path. Several B-cycle staffers suggested to us that the city put in a two-way "cycle track," meaning a bike path that would be protected from traffic.
Hayden says: "A lot of people will go up Broadway and Lincoln on the sidewalk, often in the wrong direction.... I really think it would be transformative for the city [to put bike infrastructure on Broadway], because there's a need for it.... It is so wide, you have the room.... It would solve the north-south access problem and it would get bikes off the sidewalks."
He adds, "It would send a clear message to the public that Denver values bicycling as a mode of transportation..... If you are willing to put a good facility on a major street, then you are saying this is something we value and is important, as opposed to relegating bikes to slower, difficult to use side streets that meander slowly through the city."
Snyder, the city's main bike planner, says Broadway is an area that needs further study but could be an important place to consider bike infrastructure, especially since there are a lot of destinations along South Broadway."It's a complex street that serves a large transit need as well.... It's a connection that would have its own study."
Here are the top six broader policy suggestions compiled from advocates.
6. Bike boxes Several advocates have suggested that the city consider putting in place "bike boxes" -- essentially painted boxes on the ground that designate where cyclists can and should stop when waiting for a light to change. It gives those on bikes a safer place to stop and helps eliminate conflicts between cars and cyclists, which can be quite frequent at intersections when a bike rider may not be sure where to go and a driver may not be giving a cyclist room to share the road.
5. More bike planners, stronger commitment from city officials Unsurprisingly, bike advocates would like to see more resources dedicated to biking in the city. As we discussed in our feature, the city has one planner who is primarily dedicated to biking, while some of the most successful bike cities, like Portland, Oregon, have around a dozen officials dedicated to bike and pedestrian projects in transportation departments. Van Heuven of BikeDenver says she would like to see a new bicycle master plan and bolder statements from the mayor (in an interview for our feature, Mayor Michael Hancock said that "multimodal" transportation is his priority).
4. Changes in some traffic laws Some staff at B-cycle suggested to us that Denver consider what is called "Idaho Stop" laws, which allow cyclists to yield at stop signs as opposed to come to a full stop. There are even some laws that allow cyclists to stop or yield at red lights, which are more controversial policies. Van Heuven of BikeDenver says it's time that to have a discussion about some kind of yield policy at stop signs.
3. Better signage Advocates say biking around Denver would be much improved if the city had better signage that explained where routes and bike lanes are. And the city is in the process of rolling out more destination-based signage that would specifically help cyclists navigate the city and figure out how the routes connect to key destinations.
2. Better bike parking From the perspective of some advocates, the city has not done enough to create bike parking throughout downtown and beyond. Van Heuven suggests that the city pilot "on-street bike parking," with u-racks put in the place of a car parking space in front of a business that get a lot of bike traffic, for example.
1. Large-scale education campaign While the city is pushing forward with a marketing push, advocates agree that a more comprehensive education campaign that focuses on changing behaviors and working with newer cyclists would make a big difference in helping the city become more bike-friendly.
When asked where she'd like to see Denver in five years, says, Public Works' Synder says her vision is not just about better bike lanes.
"I would like to see strong infrastructure corridors, people using those corridors...[and] strong advocacy...which is just as important as Public Works getting facilities in," she says, adding that BikeDenver has been an essential part of the growth of cycling. Improved bike parking and stronger education efforts are key as well, she adds.
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She also hopes more people are involved in this transformation. "In the past, it's been a lot of Public Works and a lot of BikeDenver....I think in five years, it would be awesome if there were more people serving more roles. I think that's how we'll grow to be one of the best cities."
More from our Environment archive: "B-cycle: The weirdest spots a bike has been found and more fun facts"